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Use of ESPs in harsh environments

Electrical submersible pumps (ESPs) can be an excellent choice for artificial lift needs in more
difficult and harsh wellbore environments. Harsh or severe conditions include:

Multiphase fluids or high GOR wells

Fluids with abrasive particles
Viscous fluids
High-temperature wellbores
Corrosive fluids
Scale and asphaltenes

Viscous crude and emulsions

ESPs are also used to lift viscous fluids, commonly referred to as heavy and extra-heavy crudes.
Viscosity is defined as the resistance of a fluid to movement as a result of internal friction.
Resistance causes additional internal losses in a centrifugal pump. The increases in internal losses
of a centrifugal pump affect each performance parameter.

Performance impact of fluid viscosity

Effect on flow capacity. Flow capacity of a given pump stage diminishes rapidly with a relatively
small increase in viscosity. The rate of correction tends to moderate as viscosity continues to
increase. The amount of correction is also dependent on stage geometry, and the decrease in
capacity is more exaggerated for radial flow stages.
Effect on head. The total dynamic head at the best efficiency point (BEP) diminishes on a moderate
curve as viscosity increases. It is affected to a lesser extent than flow capacity. The head at zero
flow remains relatively constant. Fig. 3shows various head vs. flow-rate curves for an ESP pump
stage rated for about 2,100 B/D on water.

Fig. 3-Pump-head performance vs. fluid viscosity [after Centrilift Graphics, Claremore, Oklahoma

Effect on horsepower. BHP increases rapidly with increasing viscosity but tends to level off because
of diminishing flow rate and total dynamic head (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4-Pump-horsepower performance vs. fluid viscosity [after Centrilift Graphics, Claremore,
Oklahoma (2003)]

Effect on efficiency. Efficiency decreases in proportion to the changes in flow capacity, TDH, and
HP, in terms of Eq. 1(Fig. 5).


Fig. 5-Pump-efficiency performance vs. fluid viscosity [after Centrilift Graphics, Claremore, Oklahoma

There are several published methods for estimating the effect of viscosity on the head, flow rate,
and BHP of a centrifugal pump. These "standard" correction factors are usually not accurate for the
specific small-diameter, multistage design of ESP pumps. Therefore, most manufacturers have
established corrections through testing for each pump stage type in their product line. These
correction factors are based on dead-oil viscosity values for the fluid at pump-intake conditions.
When applying these corrections to the pump, the following should also be considered.
Effects of gas. When gas saturates into the crude, it reduces the viscosity of the fluid. Some amount
of gas is helpful in reducing fluid viscosity, but an excessive amount of free gas is disruptive to well
fluid production. Gas tends to migrate out of highly-viscous fluid slowly. Therefore, a higher
percentage of gas tends to pass through the pump with the produced well fluid. In an application
with gas, the designer must be aware of two viscosity values:

Dead-oil viscosity - the viscosity of the crude at dead or completely degassed conditions.
Live-oil viscosity - the apparent viscosity of the gas-saturated crude and the viscosity that
affects the pump performance in a well with gas.

There are several dead-oil and saturated-oil viscosity correlations that can be used during the
design process. The correlation selection should be based on modeling of the actual wellbore
Effect of temperature. Temperature has a dramatic effect on the viscosity of the crude oil.
Therefore, it is critical to the ESP design process that the fluid temperature in the wellbore at the
pump setting depth is known. This determines the fluid viscosity and pump-performance correction

factors at the first pump stage. Additionally, the inefficiency of the pump results in additional heat
loss to the fluid and surrounding wellbore. This incremental elevation in temperature from stage to
stage through the pump moderates the impact of the fluid viscosity on the total pump performance.
Therefore, the designer should, at a minimum, use an average viscosity for the fluid through the
pump for sizing applications. A more accurate method is to calculate the performance on a stageby-stage basis, using the fluid input conditions to each stage. Most design software programs use
this method.
Effects of water. With the incursion of water or brine into the wellbore, the viscosity of the oil/water
mixture can increase, sometimes dramatically when emulsions occur. The shear forces on the fluid
mixture, as it flows through the formation, perforations, or centrifugal pump, can cause an emulsion.
Because thousands of molecular structures with different chemical and physical properties exist in
crude oils, it is virtually impossible to predict viscosity characteristics on the basis of oil and water
cuts. A default viscosity correction factor for emulsions, referenced in many petroleum engineering
textbooks and references, has been used for many years with questionable results. [9] The correction
factor is shown graphically in Fig. 6. The curve provides for a progressive increase in the viscosity
multiplier, up to 15, as the water cut increases. It then drops to 1, indicating the emulsion has
inverted or become water-wetted. Use of this correction factor in viscous applications has indicated
that it is too severe. Recent work has shown that because of the complexity of emulsion
characteristics, it is best to run carefully controlled baseline laboratory tests on reservoir crude and
brine samples to develop an emulsion correction curve. [10]

Fig. 6-Viscosity correction factor for emulsion.

ESP options for fluid viscosity

Several options are available for improving the performance of the ESP pump when applied to
viscous crudes.
Dilution. Some success has been achieved with diluent injection. In this process, a lighter crude or
refined product, such as diesel, is injected from the surface via a separate hydraulic line to a point
below the ESP or directly into the pump intake. This effectively cuts the viscosity of the wellbore
fluids. The amount of injected diluent depends on the desired final mixture viscosity. This type of
viscosity reduction also reduces the surface flowline losses, which reduces the required wellhead
pressure or the need for diluent injection at the wellhead. Using a diluent fluid is an effective, but
expensive, approach.
Temperature increase. The temperature of the reservoir or near-wellbore area can be artificially
raised to make the viscous crude more mobile. The most successful method for adding heat has
been through steam injection or soaking, although trials have been made with resistive, induction,
and microwave technologies. This reduces the viscosity of the crude, but it also raises concerns in
high-temperature operations.
Chemical injection. Viscosity-reduction and emulsion-breaking chemicals can be injected from the
surface by hydraulic injection lines. This impacts the fluids in the annulus and through the pump but
not very far back into the reservoir.
Water injection. When emulsions are encountered through a certain water-cut range, additional
water can be injected to increase the water cut of the produced fluid, moving it out of the highviscosity correction area. Field trials on this concept were conducted in the mid-1980s and were
successful in reducing the fluid viscosity and increasing the ESP performance.